Climate Change for Dummies

“A giant iceberg, with an area equivalent to Trinidad and Tobago, is poised to break off from the Antarctic shelf.”

The 5,000 sq-km iceberg is prevented from floating away by a 20 km chord of ice, following the sudden expansion, in December 2016, of a rift that has been steadily growing for more than a decade. The breaking off of ice sheets is a natural process, but as a result of global warming has accelerated the process. That is warm ocean water erodes the underbelly, while rising air temperatures weaken them from above. The splitting off of the iceberg would not contribute to rising sea levels however the loss of glacial ice would. According to Martin O’Leary, of Swansea University, “It makes the whole shelf less stable. If it were to collapse there would be nothing holding the glaciers up (Devlin 2017).”

What is Global warming?

Global warming: is a rise in the average global temperature caused by a man-made increase in the level of greenhouse gases.

The Earth’s climate has changed throughout geological time. According to NASA (2017) “In the last 650,000 years there have been seven cycles of glacial advance and retreat, with the abrupt end of the last ice age about 7,000 years ago marking the beginning of the modern climate era and of human civilisation.”

Natural warming of the Earth

PICTURE THIS: The night is clear and the air is chilly, it’s time to go to bed. What do you use to remain warm and cozy? A blanket, right?

When you cover yourself with your favourite blanket you become warm and toasty because the blanket traps the heat. The atmosphere works the same; a thin, invisible blanket of gases like carbon dioxide, methane and water vapour, around the Earth traps heat. This is called the natural greenhouse effect. When the sun’s rays reach the Earth’s atmosphere, some of the rays are absorbed by the clouds and are reflected back into space. The remainder reaches the Earth’s surface to warm it (Ottley and Gentles 2006).

Climate changes are attributed to small variations in the Earth’s orbit that change the amount of solar energy our planet receives. However according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the observed increase in temperatures is due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations and the growing accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere resulting from human activities is exceeding the historical levels that keep the Earth habitable (Bueno et al. 2008).

Some activities include:

1. Agriculture: Agricultural practices produce methane at increasingly alarming levels. It is estimated that close to a quarter of methane gas from human activities result from livestock and the decomposition of animal manure. Paddy rice farming, land use and wetland changes are also agricultural processes that contribute to the release of methane into the atmosphere.

2. Fossil fuels: are widely used to power modern day machinery and devices. The burning of coals, natural gas and oil produces electricity, run automobiles and powers factories. Tremendous amounts of CO2 is inevitably released to our environment.

3. Deforestation: With the growth of industrial activities and the process of development there has been worldwide deforestation. Trees utilise carbon dioxide and release oxygen back into the atmosphere as part of the photosynthetic process. However the clearing of forests leads to more available CO2 and increased greenhouse effect.

4. Other human factors leading to the release of GHGs into the atmosphere include pipeline losses, landfill emissions and septic systems that enhance and target fermentation processes which are major sources of methane in the atmosphere.

Is Global Warming Real?

“Scientific evidence for warming of the climate system is unequivocal” - Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

Why do people think Global Warming is a fictitious phenomenon?

Maybe it is a psychological issue that people believe that global warming is fictitious. We all contribute directly to global warming and “this moral challenge, combined with a sense of the relative powerlessness of individual action, helps mobilise a well-ingrained set of defense mechanisms that enables us to ignore the problem (Marshall 2015).”

Despite the discourse that global warming is a hoax, the majority of people already accept that it is a major threat and understand that they must make the necessary changes to their lifestyles. But they currently feel powerless because their concerns have not been validated by society through shared conviction and purpose (Marshall 2015). Thus people need to see conviction on the part of the world leaders to make the difficult and often expensive changes required for the preservation of the Earth for future generations.

Reducing individual carbon footprint is key to helping to curb increased temperatures on Earth!

Global warming is already upon us and warming is inevitable, adapting to higher temperatures is essential to reducing emissions. “Delay in reducing emissions increases the costs and limits the feasibility of adaptation, while aggressive steps to reduce emissions improve the likelihood that ecosystems and societies will be able to find effective ways to adapt (Frumhoff et al. 2007).”

Government’s Guide to Reducing Emissions:

1. The United States and other industrial nations must use less of the fossil fuels that produce carbon dioxide which is the most significant heat-trapping gas. These countries produce the most GHGs and also have the greatest ability to switch to more environmentally friendly technologies.

2. Climate Change Treaty like the Kyoto Protocol provides legally binding limits on emissions of GHGs through four principal strategies: improving energy efficiency, developing renewable energy resources such as solar/wind power, reducing gasoline consumption and switching from coal to natural gas.

3. Improve energy efficiency: clean, safe, renewable, sources and biomass can provide us with energy which does not contribute to global warming. Governmental policies MUST encourage their use.

4. Reduce gasoline consumption for Transportation: Highly efficient gasoline-powered cars and alternatively fueled vehicles like electric cars and buses can reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Additionally policies can encourage consumers to drive less and use alternatives like carpooling and public transportation.

5. Preserve and plant forests: Trees take in carbon dioxide and use it to grow. Deforestation especially in the tropics contributes significantly to global warming. Efforts must be made to preserve and protect the forests for biodiversity to thrive and the Earth to continue to be habitable.

Citizen’s Guide to Reducing Emissions:

1. Become carbon-conscious: The problem with global warming stems from a lack of awareness of “our carbon footprint” and its effects on the climate. Therefore families and individuals must make a continuous effort to stay abreast of developments about the global warming phenomenon.

2. Forego Fossil Fuels: Empty alternatives like plant-derived plastics, bio-diesel, and wind power also invest in companies practicing carbon capture and storage.

3. Infrastructure upgrade: buildings worldwide contribute to one third of all greenhouse gas emissions. Investing in new infrastructure or upgrading existing highways (which can decrease fuel economy) and transmission lines would help cut greenhouse gas emissions.

4. Be efficient: employ more efficient refrigerators, ACs etc. which will cut electricity bills.

5. Consume less: turn off lights/ unplug appliances when not in use. The quickest ways to reduce your global warming impact is to unplug a rarely used refrigerator or freezer. This can lower the typical family’s CO2 emissions nearly 10 percent.

6. Drive change: choosing a vehicle is an opportunity to slash personal carbon emissions. Each gallon of gas we use is responsible for 25 pounds of heat-trapping emissions; better gas mileage not only reduces global warming but can also save drivers thousands of dollars at the pump over the life of the vehicle. Look for fuel-efficient technologies such as hybrid engines. Drive less by making more use of public transportation, carpooling, bicycling and walking for shorter trips, and “bundling” errands to make fewer trips.

7. Lightbulbs matter: replace incandescent lightbulb with an energy-saving compact fluorescent lightbulb (CFL). CFLs now come in all shapes and sizes, and will lower your electric bills along with your emissions

8. Educate others

9. Let policy makers know you are concerned about global warming and as concerned citizens of the world urge them to support policies and funding choices that will accelerate the shift to a low-emissions future.

The most important thing about global warming is this. Whether humans are responsible for the bulk of climate change is going to be left to the scientists, but it’s all of our responsibility to leave this planet in better shape for the future generations than we found it. — Mike Huckabee

References

10 Signs That GLOBAL WARMING Is NO LONGER A Debate. 2016. Video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tCWI-2aISoc.

Bueno, Ramon, Cornelia Herzfeld, Elizabeth Stanton, and Frank Ackerman. 2008. The Caribbean And Climate Change: The Costs Of Inaction. Ebook. 1st ed. Tufts University. http://ase.tufts.edu/gdae/Pubs/rp/Caribbean-full-Eng.pdf.

“Climate Change: How Do We Know?”. 2017. Climate.Nasa.Gov. http://climate.nasa.gov/evidence/.

Devlin, Hannah. 2017. “Giant Iceberg Poised To Break Off From Antarctic Shelf”. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jan/06/giant-iceberg-poised-to-break-off-from-antarctic-shelf-larsen-c.

Frumhoff, Peter C., James J. McCarthy, Jerry M. Melillo, Susanne C. Moser, and Donald J. Wuebbles. 2007. Confronting Climate Change In The U.S. Northeast. Ebook. 1st ed. UCS Publications. http://www.state.nj.us/dep/cleanwatercouncil/pdf/confronting_climate_change.pdf.

Marshall, George. 2015. Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired To Ignore Climate Change. 1st ed. London: Bloomsbury.

Ottley, Jeanette and Marolyn Gentles. 2006. Longman Geography For CSEC. 1st ed. Harlow, Essex: Pearson Education Ltd.

PBS Digital Studios,. 2014. Climate Science: What You Need To Know. Video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ffjIyms1BX4.

PBS Digital Studios,. 2014. Why People Don’t Believe In Climate Science. Video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y2euBvdP28c.

“Understanding And Attributing Climate Change — AR4 WGI Summary For Policymakers”. 2017. Ipcc.Ch. https://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/wg1/en/spmsspm-understanding-and.html.